When a Jewish couple gives birth to a Jewish baby boy, their extended family and friends used to know what to expect – a big bris! The couple would find a mohel, book a room at the synagogue or perhaps host in their home, buy a huge platter of bagels and shmear and include everyone they knew in this essential first mitzvah of life. These days however, many new millennial parents are opting for a more private affair or doing away with a ritual bris altogether. The vast majority of Jewish baby boys are still being circumcised, but many parents are choosing to do so in a hospital with only the immediate family there to witness it. Having observed this trend in my own social circles as well as in my own family I’ve got a theory as to why.
For my first son it was outright assumed that we would have a huge bris, and we did! 80 people squeezed into our tiny living room to witness our long awaited baby boy being welcomed into the great mishpachah of the greater Jewish community. Our extended families came, many of whom had flown across the country with days notice to be there, great grandparents were in attendance, grandparents invited their close friends and we invited ours. Our home was bursting at the seams and yet, miracle of miracles, we didn’t run out bagels! And I think we still have cream cheese in our freezer we haven’t gotten through yet three years later.
For myself however, I found the bris incredibly overwhelming. Here’s my dayenu list as to why: if I didn’t have to host 80 people in my house after just coming home from the hospital that would have been still been too much, if I didn’t injure my bladder during labor and delivery and have to rethink an outfit that didn’t show my catheter that would still have been too much, if I didn’t have to not plan the bris because it was unlucky and would welcome the evil eye while still planning said bris that would still have been to much, and finally, if I didn’t have to watch my baby boy have a surgical procedure in front of everyone I knew that still would have been too much! So as you can see a big fat bris is a LOT for a new mom, especially a first time mom and especially a mom who is learning for the very first time how to care for an infant, how to breastfeed, how to heal from birth all while riding a crashing wave of postpartum hormones. But I digress…
So when I found out I was pregnant with another boy this past year my first thought was oh no…not another bris! This time I said the guest list had to be paired way down and although I loved the heartwarming and joyful atmosphere of my older son’s bris I just could not do it again. For my sanity, for my postpartum health I knew I had to say no. We still ended up having 40 people, it still was a stressful day (I think I may have told my son’s great grandmother who had flown from Florida for the day to be there that she couldn’t hold the baby because I was in keep it together / meltdown mode) but it was overall a much easier event for me to handle.
My family however is more of the exception than the rule, and more of my friends did away with a traditional bris altogether. There have been a few recent articles about how millennial couples are ‘cocooning’ after their babies are born and I believe this is the main factor in why the big bris is on the decline. Couples giving birth in their 30s have usually waited a long time for a baby and many have struggled on their journey to get to parenthood. Many couples are also having fewer children so the newborn days are all that much more precious. Many women are also used to being in total control of their home lives and careers. In this generation of female empowerment women aren’t looking to their moms or mother in laws to swoop in and take over when a new baby arrives. The result is that the first few weeks of life are very insular and ‘cocooned’ and a big bris just doesn’t fit in anymore.
Judaism to me is the antithesis of the ‘cocooning’ mentality – from birth to death the Jewish community as a whole is part of the experience. But it can feel intrusive and overwhelming to new parents. I encourage new moms not to sacrifice the beauty and warmth of a bris attended by people who genuinely want to welcome your baby into the world, but I also caution them not to overextend themselves or plan an event that they won’t feel up to attending.
Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her YouTube/MyJewishMommyLifechannel and Instagram @MyJewishMommyLifepage where she shares her experience living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life. Haberman is currently writing a book on Judaism and pregnancy titled “Expecting Jewish!” released Winter 2019. She is also a professional social media consultant and web and television writer for Discovery Channel, NOAA and NatGeo and has an MBA from Georgetown University.